As the number of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. continues to increase, the number of undocumented children and families who come into contact with the child welfare system is also increasing. Currently, there are no federal or state guidelines addressing the immigration status of undocumented children placed in out-of-home care. They are assessed using traditional models without consideration of their unique needs and are referred for the same general types of treatment and services. It is important to identify and address the needs and challenges faced by this population. The goal of the study was to obtain a detailed understanding of the experience of undocumented immigrants who as children or youth spent time in the child welfare system. Their placement experiences in out-of-home foster care were explored within the context of their immigration status and their level of assimilation. A qualitative study using Grounded Theory methodology was conducted. Six interviews were conducted. There were three male and three female participants. Participants ranged from18 to 21 years of age. Snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit participants. The transcribed interviews were analyzed and coded. Peer reviews, peer debriefings, member checking and other strategies were used to ensure trustworthiness of the data. The core process or experience that emerged during this study was repeated assimilation to new environments. Participants described assimilation processes into three different environments: (1) the United States, (2) out-of-home foster care, and (3) adulthood (emancipation from foster care). The results identify themes and conditions involved in these repeated processes of assimilation. Assimilation to each new environment involved the following four themes: Reasons for Change/Migration; Factors of Adjustment/Assimilation Experience; (Biological and Foster) Home Experience; and Emotional Experience. Results support the need for a better understanding of the unique needs of immigrant youth at multiple systemic levels. These findings highlight the need for caregivers and workers to consider: what the child has been through, where they are going, as well as the numerous influences that make up their experience. Findings also identify unmet needs and barriers to services faced by undocumented children and families so that advocacy for changes in child welfare policy, programs and practice can occur.

LLU Discipline

Social Policy and Social Research


Social Work and Social Ecology


School of Science and Technology

First Advisor

James, Sigrid

Second Advisor

Buckles, Beverly

Third Advisor

Ramirez, Francisco

Fourth Advisor

Winslow, Betty

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded

January 2011

Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Child Welfare; Children - Institutional Care; Social Work with Minorities; Illegal aliens - United States; Immigrants

Subject - Local

Social Work; Undocumented immigrants; Child Welfare; Foster Care; Assimilation; Grounded Theory; Snowball Sampling Technique



Page Count

166 p.

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses & Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives

Included in

Social Policy Commons